The return of the Christmas-tree tax?

The domestic fresh-cut Christmas-tree industry certainly hopes so — and heck, who can blame them, really? So many other niche special interest groups, particularly in the agribusiness sector, have successfully managed to rent-seek for federal protection from consumer choice in the free market — be it in the form tax credits, or import quotas, or direct payouts, or what have you — why wouldn’t these guys try to get a piece of the action?

Back in 2011, the Obama administration announced that they planned to succumb to the Christmas-tree industry’s years of lobbying and implement a “fee” on growers that would pay for a specialized marketing program for American-produced Christmas trees. The industry really wanted the federal government to charge and collect the “fee,” rather than collect the money from amongst themselves, in order to thwart any tree companies that might not want to pay in to what the industry believed should be a group effort (even if they had to force it out of ’em!) in promoting freshly-cut domestic trees over artificial and foreign-sourced trees.

It took only a matter of days for the Obama administration to put an indefinite stay on those plans, however, because the public reaction to what would essentially amount to a run-around tax on consumers was swift and fierce — but the tree industry has yet to give up on the endeavor. They’re still hoping they can sneak the sought-after provision into the latest iteration of the still-pending farm bill, via The Hill:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 2011 moved to create a marketing and research program for Christmas trees that would have been similar to the “Got Milk?” or “Pork: The other white meat” campaigns. …

Farmers haven’t given up on the idea, and are now pushing to have the program authorized in the farm bill legislation that is being negotiated by the House and Senate. They say they’re at risk of being run out of the market, and insist the program would involve “zero tax dollars.”

“Fresh cut Christmas Tree producers have long been concerned about losing market share to artificial tree makers and foreign imports,” National Christmas Tree Association spokesman Rick Dungey told The Hill in an email. “There are zero tax dollars involved here. USDA bills all costs associated with these promotional efforts to the industry groups that create the boards.” …

“There are more and more households that may be making a decision to display a petroleum-based import from China instead of a U.S. farm-raised product,” said Craig Regelbrugge, who represents the industry in Washington as vice president for government affairs with the American Nursery and Landscape Association.

Way to throw “petroleum-based” and “China” into that succinct little defense — those are always such great anti-free trade buzzwords, you know — but the fact of that matter is that if American consumers are choosing to purchase less expensive and/or more convenient substitutes to American-grown, farm-fresh Christmas trees, it is absolutely not the federal government’s business to interfere by heaping more bureaucracy onto our already convoluted tax and regulatory codes to try and deter them from doing so. This would be yet another seemingly harmless little provision that really only serves to stymie the beneficial free-market mechanism of competition and consumer choice — which in turn only serves to hamper American competitiveness on the global market in the long run.